animals in captivity

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Better than a Zoo: Big Red and Ezra, the Red-tailed Hawks

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Zoos are no substitute for appreciating a wild animal in his or her natural habitat, and they usually mean cruelty, suffering, and death for the animals themselves.

Almost everybody loves watching wild animals, though, and we’re very fortunate to be in the 21st century, where technology is improving to the point that we no longer need to imprison them to do so.

Case in point: Big Red and Ezra.

Big Red and Ez

Ezra sits on the eggs; his mate, Big Red, returns to the light pole upon which they've made their nest, March 2013. (Screenshot: MV on Flickr)

Big Red and Ezra are two wild Red-tailed Hawks who make their home on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York.  For two years now, researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have monitored the nests of these beautiful birds via remote HD cameras, broadcasting them live for all the world to appreciate.  The lens view can be zoomed in, moved out, and adjusted so as to get the best view possible–far closer than you could ever get in a zoo or even in the wild, and all without disturbing the birds.

An interactive chatroom staffed with bird experts and curious hawkwatchers add to the experience, as does the impressive FAQ page.

Ezra

Handsome Ezra strikes a pose, April 2013. (Screenshot: elly012912 on Flickr)

Thanks to the cam, viewers can watch Big Red and Ezra throughout the entirety of the breeding season.  We see them build their nest, lay eggs, and take turns brooding and warming them, standing periodically to roll them so that the chicks develop properly.  We see Ezra bring prey to Big Red (for she is the one who does the majority of nest-sitting) and we listen to them communicate with each other in a series of chirps and screeches.  When the babies hatch, we are witness to the entire grueling experience.  (Hatching is a very tough process and can take up to 72 hours!)  We watch Big Red and Ezra taking turns feeding them and we see as the hawklets finally figure out how to tear food for themselves.  As they grow, we see them become stronger day by day, going from downy balls of fluff who can’t open their eyes or hold up their heads to fully-grown fledglings who leap off the edge of the nest for their first flight.

BR with eggs

Big Red examines her third egg just after having laid it on March 20, 2013.

An experience like this can simply not be compared to watching a captive animal struggling to live some semblance of a natural life in a cage.

There are also other wonderful nestcams at the Lab of Ornithology, including the Great Blue Heron nest.

You can join the journey of Big Red and Ezra now and as can be guessed from this blog post, I fully recommend it.

fuzzy hawklet

One of last year's hawklets gazes into the camera (Screenshot: KidGos on Flickr)

Get elephants out of zoos!

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

By now we’ve all heard the great news about the elephants at the Toronto Zoo: at the end of November, the Toronto city council voted overwhelmingly in favour of sending Iringa, Toka, and Thika to PAWS, an animal sanctuary in California.  In fact, more and more zoos are closing their elephant exhibits, realizing that we are completely incapable of providing any semblance of a natural life for them in captivity.

Mara the elephant at PAWS

Mara, an elephant living at PAWS, and a friend.

Did you know that elephants in zoos die decades earlier than those living in the wild?

A survey comparing the records of 4,500 African elephants both in the wild and in captivity found that the median lifespan of a wild elephant is 56 years; the median lifespan of a captive elephant, just 16.9.  Asian elephants appeared to fare even worse, suffering higher rates of infant mortality than their African relatives.  The researchers suggested that stress and obesity are the main culprits of these early deaths, concluding that “bringing elephants into zoos profoundly impairs their viability.” (more)

Meanwhile, Lucy continues to languish alone at the Edmonton Valley Zoo despite the fact that activists (including Bob Barker!) have been campaigning for her freedom for years, and at least one zoo is even expanding its elephant exhibit:

 In 2003, the San Diego Zoo captured and imported 11 African elephants from their natural habitat in Swaziland, despite the fact that the species is designated “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, leaving only 36 elephants in the whole country.  Experts working with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, the longest running study of wild elephants in the world, decried the decision, stating that “Taking elephants from the wild is not only traumatic for them, it is also detrimental to their health. … No matter how well your zoo may treat the elephants, your visitors would not want to know what those tranquil elephants went through to make it possible for them to be viewed in captivity.”(more)

Some zoos which keep elephants mislead the public by claiming that they do so in the name of conservation, but that’s far from the truth:

 …even the zoo industry has stated that they have no intention of returning elephants in North American zoos to the wild;  nor do they believe that doing so would save elephants from extinction. Captive elephants breed very rarely, which is part of the reason that zoos continue to capture wild ones…(more)

Learn more about elephants in zoos–and zoos in general–at our new info page.

Lucy in the snow

Lucy stands in the snow in her tiny enclosure at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, where she has lived alone for years.

Girl bitten at SeaWorld’s Dolphin Cove

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

On November 21st, an 8-year-old girl named Jillian Thomas was feeding dolphins in SeaWorld Orlando’s Dolphin Cove when something went wrong.  The paper carton full of fish she’d been given to feed the animals was empty, so she turned away from the pool momentarily, her arm outstretched:

“…when the dolphin saw that, it leaped at me and bit me, ate the carton.”*

She suffered a swollen hand and three dime-sized bite marks, but she didn’t blame the dolphin:

Jillian held two dolphin stuffed animals as she recounted the ordeal, saying she hoped the dolphin didn’t get sick from eating the paper carton. She’s prayed for the animal at night, she said.*

Jillian is clearly a wonderfully compassionate person and a true dolphin lover, and I don’t blame her one bit for wanting to go to SeaWorld to be around her favourite animals.  When I was her age I had already visited countless dolphin exhibits and been to multiple shows, not realizing that I was supporting a cruel industry that dooms these sociable, intelligent animals to spend their lives in the equivalent of a lonely, barren fishbowl, sometimes tearing them away from their families to do so. I only hope that when Jillian gets older, she realizes that sometimes, the best thing we can do for the animals we love is to leave them alone.

jillian with dolphin

Jillian was nearly pulled into the pool.

This wasn’t the first such incident at SeaWorld’s Dolphin Cove.  In 2006, a 7-year-old boy was bitten while petting a dolphin under the guidance of an aquarium employee.  Three weeks earlier, a 6-year-old boy was bitten as well.  Both resulted in minor injuries.  SeaWorld has made no changes to Dolphin Cove, insisting even now that it is safe for children.

As Jillian’s father recounted:

“They asked if she wanted first aid, and I said ‘she’s bleeding’ so yes, we want first aid.”*

It’s not really a surprise: SeaWorld has an impressively subpar record when it comes to dealing with the safety of their guests and employees.  Everybody remembers Dawn Brancheau, the  trainer who was killed two years ago when Tilikum, a 6-ton orca, pulled her into the water and drowned her. Tilikum had already been involved in two deaths in the past, but he is also incredibly valuable to the aquarium industry, having fathered 10 of the approximately 42 orcas in captivity worldwide.  (Tilikum was back on the job 13 months later, apparently having the time in solitary confinement.) In 2009, trainer Alexis Martinez was killed while training for a Christmas show with another orca named Keto,and in 2006, trainer Kenneth Peters was violently attacked by Kasaka, an orca who had already bitten him severely seven years earlier.  (Fortunately, Peters survived with only puncture wounds and a broken foot, despite having been dragged underwater for a full minute, then released momentarily before Kasaka grabbed him again and held him under until he went limp.) Working with cetaceans is a dangerous job.

A survey commissioned by US Marine Mammal Commission and conducted by UCLA found that half of the people who work with marine mammals have been injured by them, and that of these injuries, one-third are severe: fractures, deep wounds, or wounds requiring stitches.

You can learn more about injuries at SeaWorld and other aquariums at our fact page.

 *All quotes for this post are from The Ottawa Citizen.

Another one??

Monday, November 5th, 2012
Jafira

Jafira (Photo: Greater Vancouver Zoo)

A third giraffe has died at the famously incompetent Greater Vancouver Zoo in less than one year.  Last November, a female named Eleah and her son, Amryn, died within a week of each other; while ensuing necropsies didn’t reveal the cause, the Vancouver Humane Society noted that as African animals, giraffes are particularly susceptible to cold weather and have been known to die as a result of exposure in the past. (You can read our blog post about it here.)  Jafira, Eleah’s mate and Amryn’s father, was alone in his enclosure until the Greater Vancouver Zoo bought another male giraffe to keep him company.

This Sunday, Jafira died.  He was 12 years old, less than half the lifespan of an average giraffe, captive or wild. Zoo staff, who say that he was “completely healthy”, found him collapsed in his enclosure that morning, and a necropsy is scheduled. I wonder whether if it will be as inconclusive as last years’ were?

In the meantime, what will become of the last giraffe at the Greater Vancouver Zoo?  Will they just buy another one, as they did when Eleah and Amryn died? Ideally, he would be sent to a sanctuary of some sort, assuming there even are sanctuaries that can take giraffes.  (A quick search showed me that there’s at least a couple, but they all seem to be in Kenya.)  And while no zoos are good zoos, some zoos are worse than others: case in point, the Greater Vancouver Zoo.  Perhaps the remaining giraffe could be sent to another facility that has a larger herd of giraffes and a less pathetic track record when it comes to keeping them alive.

I don’t know that there are any easy answers here, but there’s at least one easy solution: don’t support zoos.  They are not the bastions of education and conservation that they claim to be and they do more harm than good.  So if you’re concerned about wild animals–and who isn’t?–skip the zoo and donate the cost of a ticket to a worthy charity that actually works to protect wild animals, rather than just paying lip-service to the idea.  (Be careful not to give your money to groups that claim to care about animals while supporting hunting and trapping and other forms of “wildlife management”, like the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Nature Conservancy.) One particularly great organization that I learned about recently is the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, which protects about 52 wild elephant families, or approximately 1,400 elephants, in Kenya.  They have an annual operating budget of $400,000–some zoos spend that amount to maintain just 4 captive elephants for a year!

Do you have any favourite wildlife charities?  Let us know in the comments!

Update, Nov. 7th: “The BC SPCA says its investigation into the death of a giraffe at the Greater Vancouver Zoo is being hampered because workers refuse to share key information.  SPCA spokeswoman Lorie Chortyk said her organization has been forced to seek a warrant to obtain documents the zoo could simply hand over willingly.” (article)

Way to go, GVZ, we certainly couldn’t expect any more from you.

Aquarium captures endangered sharks for “educational purposes”

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Despite the fact that sand tiger sharks are endangered, hunters working on behalf of Ripley Entertainment, Inc. recently received clearance from the United States government to capture ten of them “for educational purposes”.  (The Toronto Star)  Biologists claim that dozens of trips will be necessary to capture the 13,500 total specimens of fish, rays, and sharks, who will then be transported over the border to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, set to open next year in Toronto.

What do aquariums and zoos have to do with conservation and education?

Surprisingly little.

Despite outwardly confident claims of educational value, even the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums [the American counterpart to the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums] admits that while there “…is some evidence of zoo experiences resulting in changes in visitors’ intention to act, there are few studies demonstrating actual changes in behavior.”  Existing studies, however, indicate that  zoos and aquariums do little to increase the public’s knowledge of animals and of conservation-related issues. (more)

And did you know that…

…fewer than 5% to 10% of zoos, dolphinarium, and aquariums are actually involved in what would qualify as substantial conservation programs either in the wild or in captive settings, and even then, the amount spent on these programs is a “mere fraction” of their overall income.  A study conducted in 1999 showed that parks belonging to the Association of Zoo and Aquariums donated about one-tenth of 1% of their annual operating budgets on conservation efforts.  (more)

Sand tiger sharks are in particular danger from shark finning, which is why the work of groups like Shark Truth and VADL is so important.  (On a very related and positive note, Toronto recently banned the sale and possession of shark fin, as have the cities of Maple Ridge, Nanaimo, and North Vancouver right here in BC!  If you’d like to help, you can sign a petition here.)  Similarly crucial is the protection of our oceans and their inhabitants, the majority of whom are in desperate straits thanks to our avarice for seafood and our continued indifference to pollution.

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada claims that it will use the sand tiger sharks as a tool to educate people, especially children.  “Sand tigers look like a mean, nasty shark, which makes them a powerful educational tool,” [vice-president of husbandry with Ripley Entertainment Inc., Joe] Choromanski said. “We get to say, hey, that’s not a man-eater.” (article)

It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s also a pretty empty one.  Sharks are not being killed en masse because we are afraid of them but because we are indifferent to their suffering and to the destruction of their home as long as it continues to benefit us.   Teaching children that sharks exist to swim in circles in big fish tanks does nothing to protect and preserve them; in fact, according to David Hancock, former zoo director, “Zoos have painted themselves as saviors of the wild…I fear this has instilled a false sense of security in the public mind. Many people now believe they don’t have to worry about saving animals, because zoos are doing the job.”

“Baby Beluga” dies at Vancouver Aquarium

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

Yesterday, Kavna, the 46-year-old beluga at the Vancouver Aquarium, died of cancer.  Most captive belugas die in their teens or early 20′s, so at first glance it would seem that 46 years is indeed an above-average lifespan.  At the Vancouver Aquarium, 14 belugas have been exhibited since 1967, and 7 died within 10 years of being born or wild-caught.  (3 have been sold to Sea World.) This is not an impressive track record, and it looks even worse when compared with the fact that scientists now believe that the average lifespan of a wild beluga is 50 to 60 years.

The Vancouver Aquarium apparently isn’t up on the latest research.  In today’s issue of the Vancouver Sun, the aquarium’s veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena notes that “belugas have an average lifespan of 25 to 30 years in the wild and Kavna far outlived that.” (article)

belugas in a cramped, barren tank at the Vancouver Aquarium

Belugas at the Vancouver Aquarium, 2009 (Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals)

It isn’t uncommon for the captive animal industry to stretch the truth when it comes to presenting captivity as favourable to an increasingly skeptical public:

The Indianapolis Zoo’s website stated that the average lifespan of wild bottlenose dolphins was 37 years of age until a newspaper reporter pointed out that none of the aquarium’s dolphins had lived past 21. The information on the website changed to follow suit: suddenly, the life expectancy of wild bottlenose dolphins was listed as only 17 years. (more)

Kavna was also the inspiration for musician Raffi’s famous “Baby Beluga” song, the first verse of which is:

Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,
Swim so wild and you swim so free.
Heaven above and the sea below,
And a little white whale on the go.

This is a peculiar choice of lyrics, since Kavna was captured near Churchill, Manitoba, in 1976 and never got to swim wild and free again.

An aquarium is completely incapable of providing an environment that even remotely resembles that of a wild beluga.  In nature, belugas can dive for 15 minutes at a time, reaching depths of 800 metres.  70% of their dives are over 40 metres deep, and they spend 40% to 60% of their time below the surface of the water.  Even in the largest of facilities, the average cetacean is provided with only one-ten-thousandth of 1% of the space they would regularly use in the wild.

References and sources for all of the facts in this blog post can be found on our Aquariums page.  Check it out for lots more information.

Animals at Stanley Park petting zoo sent to slaughter

Monday, February 13th, 2012

CTV.ca

But it’s zoo business as usual.

The news came out today that some of the sheep and goats at the former Stanley Park Children’s Farmyard were sent to slaughter by Trevor French, owner of Golden Grounds Farms, who promised to take them in when the petting zoo closed.  Instead, it appears that the majority may have been sent to auction and slaughtered not long after having been adopted.

The agreement, the park board says, was that the animals would be allowed to live out the rest of their natural lives at their adoptive homes.

“…We followed very stringent, thorough practice to check everybody out,” [Park Board Chair Constance] Barnes told CTV, noting that letters of reference were sought and site inspections carried out. (source)

 

Gordon Barber, the park board’s manager of revenue operations, told the Sun the park board wouldn’t have allowed French to adopt the retired pets if they had realized he sold meat from his farm. (source)

Somehow, the fact that French runs a farm that specializes in free-range beef, lamb, turkey and eggs slipped past them.

Regardless of intent or negligence on the part of anybody involved, the fact remains that while French may be in trouble for breaking his contract with the city, he didn’t violate any laws.   This sort of thing happens all the time and has been documented over and over again.  Though in this case, the animals were sold because the zoo was closing, it is legal, routine practice for petting zoos to  send their animals to slaughter once they grow past the optimum age for cuddly cuteness.   Animals at zoos (the non-petting kind) frequently suffer the same fate: when babies are born, bringing in legions of new customers, it is the older, less popular animals that pay the price.  They frequently end up in slaughterhouses, in decrepit roadside zoos or travelling circuses, or even on shooting ranges and hunting ranches.  That includes bears, tigers, lions, antelopes, kangaroos, giraffes, hippos, and more.

Liberation BC will be posting a new info page on our website with more facts about zoos soon.  Watch for it!

Two Giraffes Die Within One Week at Greater Vancouver Zoo

Sunday, November 20th, 2011
236

Giraffe at Greater Vancouver Zoo, by flickr user www.metaphoricalplatypus.com

A second giraffe has now died at the Greater Vancouver Zoo – both within one week.

On Tuesday November 15th, the Zoo’s 3-year-old baby giraffe was found dead in his enclosure. The cause of death is still under investigation. Now his mother has been found dead in her barn on Saturday, November 19th. The zoo has stated that the mother giraffe was considered a senior, at the age of 23.  This is the third giraffe death at the zoo; another baby died in 2006.

The Greater Vancouver Zoo has a very poor track record of taking care of their animals. In 1983, the zoo had two hippos in its care drown after falling through the ice after being given access to a frozen outdoor pond.

In 2004 the zoo lost its accreditation from the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums due to keeping 2 hippos in an unheated barn in severe cold during the winter months. A couple of years later, with no improvements in terms of animal welfare, CAZA reaccredited the zoo.  (Learn more about the shady business of accreditation here.)  Of these 2 hippos, Gertrude died in 2004 at the age of 22 (half the life expectancy of a hippopotamus); Harvey died a year later in 2005 at the age of 20. They both lived their entire lives in the zoo in substandard conditions.

In 2006, the zoo was charged with animal cruelty under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act as they were once again providing inadequate housing to a hippo: this time a baby Hippo named Hazina (you may know her from the very popular TELUS advertising campaign seen on TV and billboards a few years ago.)

The only water she was provided with was a 2 feet deep wading pool, not sufficient to help alleviate the weight of her 1,000 pound body on her joints. She was not permitted to go outside and graze; also, she was not provided with any rubber padding to help alleviate the weight of her body against the concrete in her enclosure.

In April of 2009 five zebras died after zoo caretakers carelessly released two Cape Buffalo into their enclosure, a decision which caused such extreme stress to the animals that they died of strokes.

Zoos are not sanctuaries. Giraffes and other exotic animals do not belong anywhere in Canada. These beautiful animals have to endure long winters trapped indoors, often in isolation; in the wild or on large sanctuaries in warm climates they have hundreds of miles to roam free and can fulfill their need for rich social interaction.

Please show your support for the animals and do not visit the zoo. Every dollar you spend is a vote – please do not support these facilities whose only aim is to profit off of the animals who suffer in their care.

Yet another death at the Vancouver Aquarium

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

A tragedy, yes, but a completely predicable one.  On September 16th, beluga whale Tiqa died at the aquarium at the age of three.  (Vancouver Sun) This is the third such death in six years, and one that John Nightingale, president of VanAqua, claims they will investigate.

No real investigation needs to be done, of course: the answer is right in front of us.  The dwindling number of cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium is no mystery–at every aquarium in the world, captive whales and dolphins die regularly and at a fraction of their predicted lifespans.  There are a number of different factors that play into this, but they all stem from the same basic problem: cetaceans are too big and too complex to be kept in captivity, but they bring in the visitors.  At the Vancouver Aquarium, captive cetaceans draw the biggest crowds, and thus contribute in a major way to their bottom line.  To a business, this is what counts.

After Tiqa’s death, Nightingale described belugas as “putter-around whales…pretty ideally suited to life in an aquarium.”  In nature, belugas will dive for 15 minutes at a time, reaching depths of 800 metres.  40% of their dives are over 40 metres deep, and they spend about half of their time below the surface of the water.  That doesn’t sound much like “puttering around” to me.

Belugas in a barren tank at the Vancouver Aquarium (Photo: Zoocheck)

By the way, the average lifespan of a wild beluga is 50 or 60 years.  There have been 15 belugas exhibited at the Vancouver Aquarium since 1967, and all but three died within a decade of being born or wild-caught.

Tons more info (as well as references for the facts in this blog post) can be found at our brand spanking new information page on Aquariums at the LiberationBC website.  Check it out and pass it on!

 

Sea World thinks we’re a bunch of idiots

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

 

The stereotypical "droopy fin" syndrome found almost exclusively in captive orcas. (Photo from In Defense of Animals)

It’s all over the news–Tilikum, a performing orca at Sea World who over the last two decades has killed three people, is back on stage.  That should make everybody nervous.  But wait–everything is okay!  According to Sea World, Tilikum “chose” to perform again.

Sea World thinks we are a bunch of idiots.  At a time when public sentiment is turning against keeping cetaceans in captivity, they are scrambling to find viable excuses and explanations to defend their industry–and they’re not doing a particularly good job.  There are real reasons that Tilikum is back on stage, of course, but none of them have anything to do with his love of the performing arts:

  • First, orcas are big business.  At Sea World specifically, the orca shows bring in 70% of the park’s income. That’s by their own admittance.   Sea World has other orcas, but each one is extremely valuable because…
  • …orcas are hard to get and harder still to keep.  A live one costs about $600,000.  While no cetaceans do particularly well in captivity, orcas are known for dying very young.   Most do not make it into their 20s, even though wild males have an average lifespan of 30 (or as old as 60) and females an average lifespan of 50 (or as old as 80).  An orca who can survive the stress of an entirely unnatural life in captivity (it appears that stress is a contributing factor in at least half of captive orca deaths)  is a valuable one indeed, even if he sometimes kills trainers and park guests.  Tilikum was about two years old when he was captured in 1983, making him almost 30.  Plus…
  • …Tilikum has sired 17 orcas, 10 of which are still alive–almost 1/4 of the approximately 42 orcas currently in captivity worldwide.  Getting cetaceans to breed in captivity is a difficult task indeed, and Tilikum, unfortunately for him, is good at it.   Since 1989, no orcas have been wild caught (with the exception of 10 caught during the infamous Taiji dolphin hunt) and public outcry, coupled with conservation laws, makes doing so again a difficult task.  The entire captive orca industry relies almost exclusively on breeding males like Tilikum.  Sea World has even discovered that Tilikum has unusually high testosterone, which accounts not only on his breeding success but, in part, for his violent behaviour.

Back to the issue of Tilikum’s supposedly choosing to perform again, here’s what former Sea World trainer Samantha Berg has said about what happened to him after he killed his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, last year:

“He’s been out of shows for about 13 months, so he’s really completely out of condition,” she said. “He’s also been extremely stressed, because he’s got broken teeth and he’s been on antibiotics on and off. We know he’s chronically dehydrated because he’s eating about 10 gallons of gelatin a day, which is about 80 pounds of gelatin just to keep him hydrated because he’s eating dead fish. And he’s also just been really isolated. (link)

I’m not exactly sure how a 12,000 pound animal expresses his interest in leaping through hoops for dead fish, but I imagine that if you put a sickly human prisoner in solitary confinement for over a year and then paid her a little attention, she’d do just about anything for more.

By the way, we are completing a new research and information page about aquariums, and it should be ready soon.  Watch for it!

See our other posts on Tilikum and related issues here:

Killer Whale Kills Trainer

Animal Voices Radio Show (Mar 9, 2010)

Another Death at the Vancouver Aquarium